Achilles seems fearless

The train pulls away from the platform and slides into the tunnel.

The doors have hissed shut. Sharp elbows; vacant, hard-edged stares and tessellating bodies in rush hour carriages. And the disembarked flow in eddies through Russell Square Station.

Into the tunnel it slides. Trillions of particles, the mass of the station, the tiles on the walls, the curved walls of the tunnel, quiver. They move, infinitesimally, backwards and forwards like the folds of a concertina.

The sound wave.

It passes through the walls; through the earth; through medieval bones waiting to tantalise archaeologists; through the foundations above, through basements above and the galleries of the British Museum. 

Through the Ancient Greek pots on glass shelves it passes, and they too quiver. Too slightly to see, for here in the august galleries the sound wave exists almost in the realm of abstraction.  

And because every impulse in the city creates its own wave, the Greek pots are shivering constantly. And Achilles seems fearless as he slays Penthesilea, eternally, motionlessly bearing down on his victim on the belly of a vase. 

But really he’s trembling. 

He’s animated by the city. He’s moving in the false silence. 

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Monsters and meat

Miles below the surface.

Darkness,

emerging into sudden light. Its glare.

And a constant roar.

And a belly full of strangely flavoured meat.

Regurgitated.

Consumed again. Its great stomach refilled.

And now it’s rising towards the surface,

towards the natural light.

And almost…

now. It breaches the surface in Farringdon,

the great beast rising nearly to street level in the middle of London.

Regurgitates meat, devours people,

who flock into its belly,

and onward the train flies on the Circle Line, back suddenly into darkness.

Onward to Barbican.

Nearer the tarpaulin.

Charing Cross Station is empty.

Gloriously void.

The colours in the great cavern are washed away by a hideous alliance of penetrating strip-lights and the impenetrable sheet of cloud that smothers England like tarpaulin.

The place feels unused. There aren’t any trains. No feet. London is subdued.

Then a person.

Right there.

Then gone, barely able to make a mark on the emptiness.

She marvels at it.

Walks the perimeter.

Past shops.

Past gaudy posters

Adverts that have nothing to offer her.

Cafes that are nominally open

but as empty as the station.

She looks up.

Through the brick

and the steel

and odd piping

she looks at the grey clouds.

Wants to be nearer them.

And so she flies.

Cooing on grey wings.

Scrapes, a fall and a little more money.

It was always easier on Thursdays. For some reason the 5.34 was less packed. He could squeeze the wheelchair on without too many angry glances.

Only four weeks left now and it’d all be over. He’d been lucky to have access to a wheelchair throughout. It would’ve been a pain to find one that he could use for such a long time.

He knocks it as he navigates the corner.

Metal scrapes briefly against brick.

He curses.

The train station.

The train.

The carriage.

It’s more crowded than he thought.

He knocks it against a shin.

A pointed cough.

A stare he feels but doesn’t see.

Not many more sessions now.

Lucy has promised to show him the piece once it’s complete. And last week she suggested that she’d pay him a litle extra for the trouble.

“I feel a bit bad about your fall last week,” she said. “I thought the wheels were stable. I know posing in a wheelchair’s probably difficult, but I promise you the picture’s worth it. I might even ask you to pose again soon.”

James hopes not. She doesn’t pay any more per hour than a regular life modeling class.

Please don’t be sad.

He’s nothing left here.

The light thrown back in thick, glossy white streaks by a front door newly painted black, glinting in windows and dull against their frames, sucked up by the tarmac and the paving stones… it’s not warming.

“But it’s beautiful,” he thinks.

When he returns here years from now that black door will be peeling and wanting attention, like the paint on the window frames, he thinks.

“When I come back I’ll be a stranger,” he thinks.

And he turns into Euston Road and the traffic is noisy.

Seven months’ belongings aren’t much weight on his left shoulder.

Saying goodbye to a lover isn’t much weight to bear either. He’s never there when it happens.

When Jake comes back he’ll find the note.

It’s time. I’m looking out the kitchen window and see a train pulling into King’s Cross and I can see people inside. It makes the kitchen feel small, all at once, and the bedroom too. I told you I’d leave. Thank you for taking me in.

Please don’t be sad.

Adam

Rocked awake.

He rocks under a gentle force, and feels a hand on his shoulder, delicately oscillating him awake.

“Sir, you need to get off now. Last stop of the night.”

She sounds kind. He opens his eyes and there is fog. But now, as it clears, he sees a round, middle-aged face.

He tries to ask her the time.

“It’s the end of the line. End of the service for today.”

She hasn’t understood.

He can’t feel his left arm where he’s slept on top of it. He tries to rise, but the fog has seeped from his eyes to his bones.

He tries to say something, but he’s not sure what.

“You’re at Paddington,” she says. “There’s a shelter round the corner. You know it?”

She thinks he’s nodding, and feels ok about not asking anything further.

The feeling in his arm is returning now, and he pushes himself upwards, and as he does so his fingers touch something small and soft.

He looks down.

A wallet.

Always check

“Bollocks” he yells in his head. There’s a moment of hope, when he thinks he feels it in his inside pocket, but no. Every other pocket has been checked and double-checked, and he pats his trousers yet again, but he knows.

His wallet is gone.

And he knows exactly when it happened. On the Tube he had pulled his phone out to listen to music, and the clump of entangled earphones must have dragged the wallet out with it. His momentary irritation at having to disentangle the wires must have clouded his senses.

He should’ve checked. Always check.

“Always fucking check!”

The wave of anger subsides now, and disappointment rushes to fill its place.

He spent £45 on that wallet, specifically because it was slim-line, no compartments, no possibility of accumulating handfuls of useless change, nothing unnecessary to bulk out his skinny jeans.

And now he can’t bear to listen to music. He’d rather have silence.